July 11, 2008

Reflections by an Aiibiishaabookewininiwag

This excerpt from an article from 2000 by Louis Erdrich about learning Ojibwemowin, the language of her mother's ancestors:
English is an all-devouring language that has moved across North America like the fabulous plagues of locusts that darkened the sky and devoured even the handles of rakes and hoes. Yet the omnivorous nature of a colonial language is a writer's gift. Raised in the English language, I partake of a mongrel feast.
I empathize. I wonder if I will ever be driven to learn to read/write Kannada, my mother-tongue; if only to be able to read a small diary my dad kept in the 1960s, which I only found recently after his death. I know how to speak in three Indian languages (Hindi, Marathi, and Kannada) but can read and (barely) write in only two of them (Hindi and Marathi). But I am most comfortable in English. I think I even think in English. Someone had asked me what language I dream in. Do dreams have languages? Do dreams have colors? Do dreams mean anything?

Back to the Erdrich piece. I loved this para:

Ojibwemowin is also a language of emotions; shades of feeling can be mixed like paints. There is a word for what occurs when your heart is silently shedding tears. Ojibwe is especially good at describing intellectual states and the fine points of moral responsibility.

Ozozamenimaa pertains to a misuse of one's talents getting out of control. Ozozamichige implies you can still set things right. There are many more kinds of love than there are in English. There are myriad shades of emotional meaning to designate various family and clan members. It is a language that also recognizes the humanity of a creaturely God, and the absurd and wondrous sexuality of even the most deeply religious beings.

P.S. Aiibiishaabookewininiwag in Ojibwemowin means the tea people, the Asians. (I think it likely means East Asians but maybe also includes Asian-Indians, the people whose land Columbus and co. were seeking when they alighted upon the Native Indians (though not the Ojibwe/Chippewa tribe that speak the Ojibwemowin) in America. It seems, the Chippewa are the third largest Native Indian group north of Mexico, after the Cherokees and Navajos. (Note to self: Some day I need to read about the various Indian tribes - which regions in the US they populated, a brief history, and so on.)

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